The 1904 Olympic Marathon Was The Worst Race Ever

On a hot August afternoon in 1904, with temperatures hovering above the nineties (32 degree centigrade), thirty-two men dressed largely in white t-shirts and shorts gathered at the newly constructed Francis Olympic Field in St. Louis, Missouri. They were about to take part in an event that would go down in history as the worst marathon ever ran.

The 1904 Summer Olympics itself was poorly organized, overshadowed by a larger event taking place in the same city—the St. Louis World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The games were originally slated for Chicago, but the organizers of the World’s Fair wrested the games away from the rival city and appended it to the Exposition, reducing the prestigious event to a mere sideshow. Additionally, St. Louis was a second-tier city and difficult to reach, which kept almost all of the top European athletes away. Only 62 athletes representing 10 nations joined the event from outside North America. The rest, amounting to nearly 600 athletes, originated from Canada and the host nation, the majority of which belonged to the latter.

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Runners lined up at the start of the 1904 Olympic marathon race

Runners lined up at the start of the 1904 Olympic marathon race.


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